L.A. city attorney moves to shut down illegal pot shops

L.A. city attorney moves to shut down illegal pot shops
City Atty. Mike Feuer talks to reporters about prosecutions of medical marijuana dispensaries. (Catherine Saillant)

Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer said his office is moving to shut down 38 medical marijuana dispensaries operating outside the requirements of a voter-approved May ballot measure intended to reduce their number.

An additional 42 dispensaries have closed on their own since Measure D took effect in July, Feuer told reporters at a Friday press gathering. That's a small portion of the roughly 850 dispensaries believed to be operating illegally.


Feuer said his office is filing new prosecutions every week. In office since July 1, Feuer said the actions mark a "new day" for medicinal marijuana regulation in Los Angeles.

"We're going to see a major difference in the way that operators and property owners perceive the city,'' he said. "They are going to accurately perceive us as moving effectively and systematically to assure that the will of the voters is, in fact, effectuated."

Under Measure D, pot shop operators and landlords leasing space are subject to prosecution. Dozens of shops shut down on their own after Feuer's office sent out letters informing dispensaries of the new rules.

Property owners face the same penalties as the operators: for every misdemeanor count, they face up to $1,000 in penalties and six months in jail. No operators or landlords have been jailed or required to pay fines, although one owner reached a plea agreement with the city, Feuer said.

About 135 pot outlets meet the voter-approved criteria for continuing to operate and won't be prosecuted, Feuer said. But if they are within 600 feet of a park, a school or a child-care facilty, they will have to move, he said.

State and local laws regulating dispensaries conflict with the U.S. Justice Department's stance that marijuana is an illegal drug that cannot be sold, even for medicinal purposes. Feuer said his office has "been in contact" with federal authorities but declined to detail what, if any, coordination is taking place between the agencies.

Feuer said city attorneys are attempting to provide the balance intended by Measure D, which sought to ensure access to medical marijuana for chronically ill patients but reverse a proliferation of shops.

City officials have spent years trying to regulate medical marijuana with little success. Despite a moratorium imposed in 2007, shops continued to open.  Subsequent attempts to set a cap on the number of shops and then ban them altogether failed.

Dispensary operators fought back with lawsuits and their own unsuccessful voter measures.

Measure D helped clarify the debate, the city attorney said, setting standards for legal operations. Thus far, the city prosecutions haven't been challenged legally, he said.

David Welch, an attorney representing several dispensary operators, said his clients have filed lawsuits in federal court challenging portions of the city law. But they have not yet been served on the city, he said.


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